Twas the night before Christmas and I’m stuck in a hospital instead. The only creature that was stirring was me from my bed. The I.V. was hung by my bedside with care. In hopes that I’d get better soon and go home from here. The nurses were all nestled and snug in their rounds. While visions of patient vitals danced with a sound. Them with their patient charts and meds so quickly they serve. I’m awaiting my turn for my visit of patient concern. Pain meds a must and then a tuck of my pillow is my care. Or do you need a Chaplain from spiritual care? No Christmas tree lit or decorations strung here, because I’m not home, in the hospital I groan. What do I see, knowing my family can’t see me? They’ve become so busy away from me, so I’m waiting for when they will have time to see me. Looking out my door I wait, hearing the sounds of the nurse’s central command center, I wait. When a patient moans, cries, or codes, I hear it and I wait. It’s going to be Christmas in the morning, but I can’t spring from my bed to see what matters about my release to be set free. For from the view of my hospital bed I have the sulking blues you see. Because I have a room with a view from my hospital bed, it's me, the patient.
Welcome, to my bedside room with a VIEW! What’s a Chaplain to do? When a patient’s holiday is from a hospital view that is painted with the somber depressive painful perspective of being sick, injured, or even feeling blue? O what a view! When the holiday season has come in the midst of a hospital stay. What’s a patient to do during their holiday stay? As a chaplain during my CPE training years, I always signed up for the overnight on-call Eves of major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, & even Easter/Resurrection Sunday. It can be tough for many patients to be alone during these times. Yet, for me I’ve always enjoy them, because patients tend to be more spiritually open to a robust interactive dialog during these times. I have encountered many types of patients during a Christmas Eve overnight on-call. May I introduce you to two types of patient that I have encountered over the years of my chaplain service. I would like to introduce you to a Frosty and a Scrooge type of patients.
Let’s see, I’ve had a range of patient types that I would consider to be a Frosty the Snowman. This means a happy and jolly patient that is a kind bucket of joy in spite of their hospital stay. A Frosty type patient, will want to have a sing-along of some of the old familiar Christmas songs and carols, too. They may even ask for a favorite Christmas story or scripture. And what’s most exciting about a Frosty patient visit, is they tend to freely share their family and faith traditions of their own holiday customs with ease. They enjoy our time together as if we were old friends. When it’s time to wrap up our pastoral care visit with a prayer, or encouraging word, if they would like. I ask the question, o so polite. With a smile or a grin, they kindly say, yes please, some even reach for me to hold my hand as I pray. O what a joy of serving them this tonight. I get to witness a light in the night.
Now here comes another type of Christmas patient type you see. A cold-hearted, angry, gloomy, Ebenezer Scrooge from the Christmas Carol movie. This patient may be a stern, demanding, hard as a flint toward the nursing staff. So much so, that the nursing staff may request a chaplain visit for this Scrooge type of patients. With a caring concern the nurse describes the mood of the patient, and gives a warning to us, the chaplains to brace ourselves for these patient visits. What does a chaplain do with a Scrooge? He/she could be stuck in unresolved issues from the past, present, or future. One never knows what has caused them to become a he/she Scrooge. I’ve encountered both and they’re not easy to pastor until you find that common ground of entry into a conversation that they start to share. When it happens, it’s such a beautiful miracle to see. When you see an ever so slightly smile and a soften word spoken. That’s when we really start talking!
One Christmas Eve, I entered the room of my Scrooge, I greeted him. Hello, I’m Chaplain Pressey, we received a consult for a patient visit. Are you Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge (not his real name)? He abruptly, cut me off to say, I’m Dr. Ebenezer Scrooge! I’m so sorry, Dr. Scrooge. He had made me so nervous with his tone, that I even missed pronounced his name, of which he also quickly corrected me, again. Even with him being annoyed already with me from our introductions. I attempted to ask him a few questions, that were unclear on his consult sheet. For instance, you have not listed a religious preference, so I asked did he have one. Basically, he addressed me so angrily, “I don’t need know religious preference, that’s the problem with you Christian anyway, and he told me to get out”. Yes, my readers, he kicked me out of his room. When he did that, I told him to have a nice evening, I hope you feel better soon, and goodbye.
I stepped out of his room and stood at the nurse station to take notes of our visit, so I wouldn’t forget anything when I charted this visit in the system, later. As I was writing, he saw me and called me back into his room. He didn’t say that he was sorry, but his demeanor had changed a bit, so I sat down to talk to him. We had a rough start, but after about 1 hour he started to share some of his religious views and convictions with me. I also learned that he was a very lonely divorced man with no family visiting him. I saw the hurt more than the anger as he spoke. I listened more than I talked, because I was scared of upsetting him, again. So, this visit was to provide spiritual care through being an active listener. It worked; he just needed to talk. Getting things off his chest, seemed to calm him down. My Dr. Scrooge became the individual that helped tiny Tim in the movie. I guess I must have been his tiny Tim (female) that he helped by calling me back into his room. Go figure!
Holidays, sicknesses, diseases and despairing moments are all a part of life. We don’t always have control over when, where, how, or if life takes us through a storm. We are all the same. Patients, doctors, nurses, staff, and of course, chaplains, yet we are all vulnerable humans. In moments of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, we too can become either a Frosty or a Scrooge depending on how we decide to handle and/or face our life’s circumstances. Love, compassion, empathy, and understanding can go a long way when attempting to bridge a gap to provide spiritual care. May we all remember to each one reach one when we serve the sick. And to my Chaplain clergy family, we need each other to insulate the other when a visit takes a toll on one of us. So, may we always remember to have each other’s pastoral back by each one reaching the other, so none of us becomes a Chaplain Scrooge, nor stay one. As I close this year out, I prefer to be, and stay a Chaplain Frosty!!!
This is my last 2020 edition of, “The Diary of a Hospital Chaplain,” blog for the year. I sincerely hope that you have been enriched, inspired, and have enjoyed the inside view of a chaplains servant calling life. Thank you for so many of you who subscribed to my blog on my website this year. And to others who have encouraged & prayed for me, commented, and shared your own personal chaplain experiences during this adventure with me, thank you, too. Please stay tune for my next edition coming out in late January 2021. May the joy and peace of this season be multiplied upon you, your loved ones, and families, until we meet again, have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday & New Year season on purpose!
For the sake of the Chaplain’s healing Call!
Chaplain Jacqueline M. Pressey, Ed.D.
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